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Today’s Headlines and Commentary

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Friday, May 2, 2014 at 8:55 AM

Yesterday, the White House released the highly anticipated report of the Big Data and Privacy Working Group. An overview of the report explains that the report—which, in part, considers how the collection of data in the private and public sector affects American citizens’ privacy—presents a largely positive view of “Big Data” collection. It helps to save lives, bolster the economy and improve government operations. The report mostly brushes aside NSA surveillance, which was apparently an intentional move by White House counselor and main author John Podesta. The Washington Post has more on the report, as well as the main policy recommendations outlined, including a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

Meanwhile, major U.S. technology companies are directly—but quietly—resisting the government by refusing to comply with demands for customers’ data. The Post reports that companies like Google and Facebook have been trying to distance themselves from the government ever since the Snowden revelations. The Justice Department warns that such action threatens the security of the nation.

There is disappointment looming ahead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s meeting with President Obama today: the New York Times reports that efforts to bring the U.S. and Germany together over an intelligence agreement have “collapsed”.

As a result, most of the discussion between the two heads of state today will focus on the current crisis in Ukraine. Putting together a strategy is essential as, according to the Times, the U.S.-imposed sanctions on Russia over the situation are possibly having very little economic impact.

On the ground in Ukraine, the Ukrainian army launched its first major assault against the separatist rebel movement a matter of hours ago. The Post reports that the Ukrainian army attacked several rebel-held parts of the eastern city of Slovyansk early this morning, taking over multiple checkpoints that had been in the rebel’s hands. The situation is far from peaceful, with rebels having taken several hostages, including journalists and several European diplomats. The Times has more, and on Russia’s predictably negative reaction to the violence.

Reuters reports that United States is helping in the efforts to find over 200 kidnapped female schoolchildren in Nigeria. The State Department confirmed yesterday that the U.S. is engaging in frequent discussions with the Nigerian government, determining how best to help.

The terrifying kidnapping in Nigeria highlights just how powerful Boko Haram is becoming in the country. Though the kidnapping is the most public and possibly the most horrendous act of domestic terrorism the Islamist group has perpetrated, it is not an isolated incident: the Globe and Mail reminds us that Boko Haram has been steadily gaining control—threatening Africa’s largest economy and democracy—for years. The New Yorker also considers the “deeply troubling” relationship between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram.

Secretary of State John Kerry is focusing his efforts on guaranteeing the maintained stability of the African Union, and a large part of that effort involves helping to negotiate peace in South Sudan. The AP reports that while in Addis Ababa yesterday, Kerry was trying to convince AU members to send peacekeepers to South Sudan, to help avoid a potential genocide. The Times also reports on Kerry’s efforts, reminding us all that time is of the essence in trying to mitigate the bloody South Sudanese conflict.

The Daily Beast reports that Western intelligence agencies are growing increasingly suspicious that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hasn’t been completely honest when it comes to ridding the Syrian government of its chemical weapons arsenal. The worries are two-fold: first, what if Assad has been lying about how many chemical weapons are actually left in Syria and, second, what about biological weapons, which have never been the focus of international inspections?

At least 33 people are dead after an air strike in a rebel-held district of Aleppo, the BBC reports.  The United Nations lambasted the attack as cruelly “indiscriminate” and as directly targeting innocent civilians.

The Yemeni army killed at least 13 al Qaeda militants yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

Sharia law has gone into effect in Brunei, the first Asian country to ever impose the legal system on a nationwide basis. The U.N., along with multiple other multinational bodies, have condemned the decision made by the Sultan of Brunei, the strong corporal punishments involved in Sharia law in particular. That story is over at The Wire.

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